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January 22, 2009 1:42 AM   Subscribe

Looking for advice from people who have changed their names.

I've never liked my first name. (I'm not wild about my last name either, but the first is the bigger problem.) I've gone through periods of hating it, periods of tolerating it, and a general long-suffering feeling of being saddled with something that I don't feel really suits me. I unfailingly cringe when I hear someone speak it, and I avoid speaking it to anyone else whenever politely possible. My mother asked me a few years ago if I had a preference between two pronunciations, and I responded that I didn't care, I hated them both equally--which about sums it up. I use my initials in most written communication.

The idea of changing my name has long bounced around in my head, but I've always ended up deciding against it, for a variety of reasons: don't want to disappoint my parents who clearly liked the choice, don't want to feel "pretentious", don't know how to go about telling people in my life to start calling me by a new name, doubts as to whether I'll be taken seriously by people who have known me for years by my birth name.

I've also had a really hard time thinking of something different that would feel suitable and not overly dramatic. I've not yet thought of anything that I feel comfortable enough to walk around and live with. I'm 30, and have grown accustomed to my dislike for my birth name; it feels like something I'm just stuck with, like physical features I dislike but can't change. Other people are accustomed to it and don't give it much thought either way, so the "why bother" sentiment usually wins out, until I again find myself in a situation where the frustration of disliking something as fundamental as the word that was chosen to identify me is something I hate hearing manifests itself again.

My middle name is common but uninspiring, and I don't have a particular interest in adopting it as my "unofficial" first name. My last name is not one that translates well to a first name, and due to my lack of connection with my father's side of my family, I don't want to take on their moniker as the word I'm identified by. My mother's maiden name is not really usable as a first name.

I'm female, but don't feel particularly "girly"--this is a small part of why I don't like my birth name; it ends in "a", which is strongly identified with femininity. I prefer interesting-sounding, more gender-neutral names, or names that are more clearly associated with a specific language or culture, but I feel like those would lose their novelty after a while, and perhaps just sound like a pretentious, weird name, especially if I don't have any ties to the associated cultural background.

So I'm looking for some insight from people who have found themselves in similar situations, or people who know someone who has gone through this process and how they handled it. I've read this thread, and found a couple of useful answers, but would like something more. What motivated you to make the decision to change your name? How did you go about choosing a new name that you felt comfortable with, and identified with? How did you go about telling your friends and family about your new name, and propagating it in social/familial circles? What were the reactions of family and friends when you told them to start calling you newname instead of oldname?
posted by the luke parker fiasco to Society & Culture (14 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
When I immigrated to the US, I discovered that the locals found my name very difficult to pronounce. So I legally changed it to a fairly common (in the US) name which is somewhat similar to my birth name. But, I like a shortened version of the new name much better than the official name, so I always introduce myself using the nickname. My parents dislike my anglicized name, especially in the shortened form. The end result of all this is that I have one name on all official documents, my parents and friends from my previous country call me by my birth name, and everyone else calls me by my nickname. But, this arrangement is perfectly fine with me.

So, I would suggest that you don't have to think of your name as an all-or-nothing kind of business. For instance, the next time you enter into a new social circle, you could just introduce yourself using a new name (and no one is going to care whether or not that's the name on your passport), and it's OK if you're known to some people by one name and to others by a different one. Eventually, if you like the results, you can ask your existing friends to start calling you by the new name you've chosen. I've known several people who one day just announced that from that point on they prefer to be known by some new name. They, of course, got extensively questioned about the reasons for the change, some fun was poked at them, and some people took a while to adjust to the new name. But, eventually, everyone started calling them by the new name, and pretty much forgot that the old one ever existed. Also, just saying that you don't like the old name is not pretentious, and most people will understand and accept that explanation pretty easily.

After a while, if you really start to identify with your new name, you can make it your legal name as well, or not - it is perfectly OK to be known by something other than your legal name. If your parents resist, just let them call you by your old name. This kind of arrangement works for me, anyway.
posted by epimorph at 3:31 AM on January 22, 2009

I have both an English and a Chinese name because I am Chinese-American. My English name was given to me by my mother when we applied for Social Security, and I never particularly liked it. It was just so common, very blah. When I was sixteen, I unofficially changed my English name to something else entirely different. I'll be honest here, I was inspired by the film Four Weddings and a Funeral, and I got my new name from one of the characters (hint: she's played by Kristin Scott Thomas). It just seemed more me, more lively, more fun, and I think I would have lived life very differently if I had stuck with the name my mother gave me.

I told everyone I knew, including my teachers and my family. They all thought it was just a phase, but what the heck, they went along with it. My mother was a little bit hurt because she had picked it, but hey, she and my dad got to pick my Chinese name, which I will never change.

It took me a while to adapt. For a while everyone called me by both names because I hadn't adapted to responding to my new name yet, and they would only get my attention when I yelled at them to remember the new one.

I became a citizen in my early twenties. When you become an American citizen, you get the option of changing your name from your old name to a new one. This is usually meant for people who might want to Americanize their name, but I took advantage of it and changed it to the name that I had chosen.

The biggest hassle afterwards was getting my paperwork changed. Even though I'd been going by my new name for years, everything was still issued under my old name: my diploma, my driver's license, Social Security card, etc. But after everything was issued again, it was a piece of cake, and so much fun because I felt that I really was the name that I had chosen.

However, I'm very likely to never change my name again, not even for marriage.

My family and extremely old friends will still occassionally call me by my old name, in fact it's a mark of honor if you knew me back in the day when I was Old Name. My family usually just says it to annoy me, but for everyone else, I'm just who I am now.

Anyway, this whole long-winded spiel is to say, definitely go for it. I think that at age 30, you shouldn't be going through life with a name that you don't like. It's like being an entirely new person when you're called what you want to be called.
posted by so much modern time at 3:36 AM on January 22, 2009

I did not legally change my name, but at the age of 11 instituted that I went by a nickname associated with my middle name, and now, as an adult, the only people who use my first name are my parents and some people who have known me essentially since I was born. I did it for similar reasons to others - My first name sounds goody-goody to me, and I am not that sort of person at all.

If it drives you that crazy, figure out something to do about it. If people don't like it, even when they understand that it's so important to you and your overall happiness, then they aren't very good friends, anyway.
posted by Medieval Maven at 5:47 AM on January 22, 2009

When I was about 22, I found myself changing my direction in my life. I was also inspired to change my name. I didn't fully understand why either of these were important at the time, but they went together. I moved from the East Coast to Seattle, went from a teaching job to computer programming, changed my name (including last name). Sure, part of it was that my old last name was hard to pronounce, but that wasn't all of it. At first it was all an experiment. What am I like with the name Peter? What does this feel like? What is it like to be in Seattle?

What I found was that it gave me the opportunity to take ownership for my own likes and dislikes, my own identity. Maybe it was like the feather that Dumbo carried around. Whatever the case may be, it worked out very well for me (in my opinion) in a personal sense and so I kept the new name. Part of this was that it provided me with needed emotional distance from a publicly acceptable but privately pathological birth family. Honestly, my man-hating mother has never accepted me or said anything good about me, and she had nothing good to say about the name change either, as far as I know, I don't think I cared, and I don't care now either. My father was and is a momma's boy and until I changed my name I was also. He's never mentioned it to me, and I never asked him or heard his opinion from anyone else.

Of course, there are complications - the paperwork is not too bad, depends on the state, but basically it's easy. More complicated is applying for a job in the next 5 years. If you have to interview with 10 people and then 5 other people are calling references, they all need to know that you changed your name. If you are a borderline hire, this will obviously not help.
posted by peter_meta_kbd at 6:40 AM on January 22, 2009

I like my birth name alot, one which has many many nicknames and shortened versions. Unfortunately my parents stuck me as a baby with the most pedestrian version (gosh, it made me rhyme with my brother!) and I always hated it. Never felt like people were talking to me when I used it. So when I left home for college I changed it. This was easy because of course, all new acquaintances. I instantly felt at home in the new name. After college, discovering that I got taken more seriously with a more masculine iteration, I changed it again, but eventually settled on the middle one. People who knew me in both permutations just went along with it; those who didn't like the change didn't change what they called me, which was fine. My family have always continued to call me by my baby name, which is fine.

I have never had any confusion over all of this, some puzzled amusement only, and I can instantly tell how, through whom, or when someone met me by which version of my name they use (btw, the three versions do not sound anything like each other, and you would need to know my given name, which I seldom use, to get the connection). Because I never changed my given name, and still use it on legal documents, there were also no paperwork nightmares.

For the OP, it's challenging because you don't like any of the obvious permutations of your various names, which means a more dramatic break, plus no lifestyle change that makes the transition seamless. However, I have a friend who went from "Heidi" to "Roz" which I gather she just made up; took some getting used to, but we all got used to it. You might try looking into the family origins of your name; perhaps there is a family nickname or middle name associated with it a couple of gens back that you could use. But as far as just starting to use a different first name, it's actually fairly easy.*

*(Let your folks call you your birth name if they want to. Where's the harm. Everyone else has to change, and they will.)
posted by nax at 7:12 AM on January 22, 2009

If you have any concerns about your name, I recommend doing something about it now. Don't keep putting it off, because then you could end up like me, published and professionally known by a name that's more suited to a cheerleader than to a business owner. I think a stronger name would have gotten me more money and respect, at least when I was younger.
posted by PatoPata at 7:38 AM on January 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

I switched to use my given first name when I was 19. (I had grown up using my middle name).

I don't have a lot to add. I introduced myself with the new name to new people. I made no attempt to change what my family and old friends called me. Some have eventually switched to the new name. Some have not. I answer to both.

Even if I insisted on everyone calling me by the new name, I'm not sure it would work. I'd go into the name change thing accepting that some people aren't going to change.

As to why I did it - I don't know exactly. I was just starting University and wanted to go in with a clean slate?

And, in my case, it was always a bit of a pain having my middle name as my actual name, because all my documents list my first name . . . so in an official sense I had to deal with my first name.
posted by ChrisManley at 7:47 AM on January 22, 2009

I changed my name a few years ago, after spending years considering it from when I was about 12. I always hated my first name, and my last name was about as comon as it got.

Anyway, I held off for years as I couldn't think of anything I was comfortable with, but then through being online I came up with a couple of options which I used on various sites. By the time most of my friends were calling me by that name it seemed time to do something about it.

It's a strange name, so I probably get asked more questions about it now than I did before (and I used to get asked about my old name regularly), but at least I'm more comfortable with it now, and it seemed like a name that if I got anywhere in the career I was after would suit me better, thus seemed like some sort of impotus.

Basically, if you can find a way to use a name you like for a prolonged period, and give others around you some time to get used to it before you decide whether it's right for you, it'll help. There's still an ex I'm friends with who totally fails to use me new name. And the name it was contracted from I kept (though moved in my name), and I don't mind so much. But, there are bound to be people you've known for a long time who struggle.

Interestingly, since changing it, my father no longer mixes up my brother's and my names.
posted by opsin at 8:06 AM on January 22, 2009

I think most of the people I know go by a name other than their birth name. Go ahead and change it. You don't even have to legally change it until you're sure you like it. It's as easy as saying "Hi I'm _____". To get around the awkwardness with people you already know, just tell them you're going by your middle name now. When they ask why you say it's because you like the sound better or to honor your grandmother you're named after. (Or something simple. Trust me, they won't want to hear all of what you wrote up there.)

With your family... Well it depends on the family. Most of them will probably not want to call you by the new name, because they'll feel like you're rejecting a part of your heritage. (Which you are, of course, just not an important part.) Don't fight them on it.

But really it's no big deal. Virtually everyone has thought of changing their name at one point or another.
posted by Ookseer at 10:54 AM on January 22, 2009

I know a lady who changed her first name fairly significantly during her 30s. After an initial odd period of adjustment we all got used to it. I can't actually remember her birth name now that I try to think of it!
posted by amanda at 11:26 AM on January 22, 2009

I haven't changed mine, but this comes from observation of those who have:

* It's easier to change if you are moving somewhere else than anything else.
* Family WILL INSIST on calling you by the birth name.
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:37 PM on January 22, 2009

Millions of women change their last names when they marry some guy - why shouldn't you change your first name because you want to?

Seriously, do you have outlook address books at work? Have you ever noticed how many people have a "go by" name that is nothing like their legal name?

Is your current first name the only name people call you? You don't have an aunt who calls you "Little Luke" and college friends who call you "P fiasco" while your co-workers call you the Luke and the people from your home town know you as Parker? The change may not be as hard as you imagine.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 8:02 PM on January 22, 2009

When you change your name as an adult, people will occasionally make wrong assumptions, funny complications will undoubtedly surprise you, and some people will insist on knowing Reasons... and, all that said, it's still absolutely worth it. Clearly you really care about changing to a new name and I think you should honor what you want over the minor practical and human complications.

(I legally changed my last name from my dad's to my mom's when I was in college. Oddly, a few months after I changed it to Pierson [I'm using my real name here on mefi], I met someone whose last name was also Pierson, who became my best friend and closest collaborator in college; and it caused real problems that he and I were so often assumed to be married or related -- partly because we're in a field where some people are obsessed with unfair nepotism.)

As you may know, legally changing your name is a very simple process. The costs will be a small filing fee in the court and the fee for running the required announcement in a local newspaper (required to help prevent people from changing their names to hide from creditors/etc.). If possible, get a few copies of the original embossed certificate, because you'll need that in many contexts and it's great to have a spare to carry with you and not worry about damaging it.
posted by kalapierson at 11:49 AM on January 23, 2009

When I immigrated to the US, I discovered that the locals found my name very difficult to pronounce. So I legally changed it to a fairly common (in the US) name which is somewhat similar to my birth name.

My name is pretty impossible to pronounce in languages other than English - kids at school who were South Asian but bilingual found it tricky because there are so many consonants in it. I wonder whether I'd have to change mine if I emigrated - what's the protocol for choosing an English name for Chinese people - do you choose one that's the equivalent of your native language name?
posted by mippy at 5:05 AM on April 16, 2009

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